Mania (Part 1)

After relative success with entry level pumpkin related baking, I felt comfortable being a bit more adventurous. Soon after the Washington Post Food section published its annual cookie issue on December 6, my friend Emily and I got together for a Sunday afternoon of baking. We had previously decided that we would make the Cheesecake Pecan Bars, Cherry Pistachio Oatmeal Cookie, and Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprints — all published in the Washington Post.

To settle in for an afternoon of baking, I decided to make a batch of glögg, a traditional Swedish beverage. Drinking while baking may not be wise, but it will be fun! To make the glögg, I again turned to the Washington Post. While traditional glögg is made with aquavit, a special Scandinavian liquor, I decided to use vodka instead as there are three bottles in my freezer.

Glögg (adapted from the Washington Post)

INGREDIENTS:
10 whole black or green cardamom pods, cracked
1 or 2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger
10 whole cloves
3 one inch pieces of orange zest
3/4 cup golden or dark raisins, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1 750ml bottle of good dry red wine, such as a cabernet sauvignon
1 1/2 cups vodka, separated
1/2 cup dark rum
sliced almonds (to serve)

DIRECTIONS:

Clockwise from top left: crystalized ginger, cinnamon sticks, cracked cardamom pods, orange zest, raisins, whole cloves

Bottle of syrah & the remains of the Menage a Trois wine from Folie a Deux

Combine the cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ginger, cloves, orange peel, 1/2 cup raisins, sugar and wine in a large saucepan over medium or medium-low heat. Stir to mix well.

Add the 3/4 cup vodka. Cook until it is warmed through and small bubbles begin to form at the edges; do not let it come to a boil. Cover and let glögg steep overnight at room temperature.

When ready to serve, place remaining 1/4 cup raisins in a small bowl and add rum to soak. Strain the glögg mixture. Add remaining 3/4 cup rum and reheat over low heat until warmed through. Serve with warm with sliced almonds and rum soaked raisins.

The glögg was fantastic. I really enjoyed the hint of cardamom in addition to the other spices. The addition of the rum soaked raisins in addition to the almonds added a nice touch to the glögg. With glögg in hand, Emily and I were ready to bake!

The Cheesecake Pecan Bars required the most time due to a three hour refrigeration (at minimum) requirement so Emily and I started with that so we could make the other two cookies while the bars were sitting pretty in the fridge.

Cheesecake Pecan Bars

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust and topping:
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups pecans (coarsely chopped)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter (melted)

For the filling:
24 ounces regular cream cheese at room temperature (do not use low fat or light cream cheese)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

 DIRECTIONS:

For the crust and topping: Line the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, pecans, brown sugar and melted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on low speed until well blended. Reserve 2 cups of the mixture (at room temperature) to use as the topping; press the remaining mixture into the prepared pan and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

For the filling: Beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on low speed until smooth and creamy. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the speed on low, gradually add the granulated sugar until fully incorporated. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the speed on low, add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, then add the milk and beat to blend well. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the lemon juice, vanilla extract and salt; beat on low speed just until combined and lightened in color.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

The only pictures of the cheesecake pecan bars I have because baking madness went into full force after putting this in the fridge

Spread the mixture evenly over the chilled crust, then crumble the reserved topping mixture evenly over the filling to create a topping. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the edges are starting to turn golden brown and the top is set. If the topping appears to be browning too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then cover loosely and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.

Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container.

The cheesecake pecan bars were incredibly delicious but also incredibly rich. The pecan crust and topping gave the bars a nice crunch and provided a good contrast to the richness of the cream cheese filling. Although I have an immense sweet tooth, I really couldn’t have more than two bites at a time. It took me a whole afternoon to get through one bar, though in hindsight prolonging the goodness made for a very pleasant afternoon. Emily took these bars to work and one of her co-workers remarked that if he knew a meteor would strike earth, he’d have his fill of these bars and could die happy. Given the amount of sugar and cream cheese in these bad boys, I’m pretty sure the only time I can bake and eat these bars again guilt-free is knowing that the end is near.

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